UNBC Labour Negotiations

25 January: UNBC Faculty Association promises students notice before striking.

UNBC Faculty posed to strike
Jasmine Kirk | Editor in Chief

UNBC faculty is in negotiations with the University to create their first collective agreement, which could result in a strike at any time. Dr. Ted Binnema, the Chief Negotiator for the UNBC Faculty Association, stated: “Our concern is that the contract being proposed by the Employer would put us as the least desirable university at which to work in the country”. UNBC’s 398 faculty members voted in favour of unionizing last spring, and on April 29, 2014, the UNBC Faculty Association was certified as a union under the Labour Relations Board of BC. UNBC has a prior existing union (CUPE, which consists of all support staff), but the faculty has not been unionized in the University’s 25-year history. Since the vote in April, the Faculty Association has been negotiating the terms with UNBC’s Board of Governors.
While the University is very pleased with the progress that has been made so far, the negotiators have been at the bargaining table for over 200 hours, by far surpassing the Faculty Association’s goal of ratifying a collective by June 30. On January 15, the FA voted 84% in favour of a strike mandate, giving them the power to call a strike if necessary. This is the first university faculty strike mandate to occur in BC history.
The Faculty Association has a negotiating team of five members: an executive director, Donna Plourde, and four tenured UNBC professors; Dr. Ted Binnema (History), Dr. Paul Bowles (Economics), Dr. Darwyn Coxson (Ecosystem Science and Management), and Dr. Shannon Wagner (Health Sciences).
UNBC’s team consists of Dr. Daniel Ryan (Dean of the College of Science and Management, Chief Negotiator), Dr. Bill McGill (Ecosystem Science and Management), Dr. William Owen (Psychology), Sheila Page (Director of Human Resources), and Shari Hoff.
The main issues that the Faculty Association and the Employer are currently having difficulty compromising on include concerns over UNBC’s ability to make programs redundant, retirement options and benefits, and bringing faculty salary up to market standards.
Program redundancies are a big point of contention because the University does not want to promiss that employees be given jobs in different departments, despite the interdisciplinary nature of most UNBC professors. The Faculty Association would like to remove the option of layoffs in the case of program disbandment, also helping to ensure that students will have continued access to somebody in that field if they wish to pursue studies in a redundant department.
Retirement benefits have been a focus of the FA in their desire for members to be comfortable after completing their tenure at UNBC. Currently, there are almost 90 faculty members over the age of 55. For the most part, retired faculty members are also more likely to come back and volunteer for the University, suggesting that it is in UNBC’s best interests to keep their pensioners happy.
Finally, the negotiators are still working through the issue of salary. Presently, senior faculty members at UNBC are paid approximately 25% less than professors at comparable Canadian universities. The FA is hoping to change this, and thus make UNBC a more desirable university at which to teach and learn.
Dr. Binnema, chief negotiator for the Faculty Association, addressed concern about the impact of a salary increase on tuition. “The university has the ability to pay us the salaries that we would get if we were elsewhere, and they wouldn’t have to increase tuitions to that effect.” In fact, Dr. Binnema is firm that “one thing that we’ve made clear is that the University can pay these salaries–the market salaries–without increasing tuition. Students wouldn’t have to pay for faculty to be getting paid more. Every year in the last ten or more years, the university has had a surplus at the end of the year far larger than what they would be required to pay us at market salary.”
When discussing terms of the 2010-2012 negotiation, the decision went to arbitration. Long-time mediator Vince Ready, the arbitrator who oversaw relations during the BCTF strike, was brought in to supervise the decision. Dr. Binnema said that Ready was particularly compelled by the comparison between UNBC’s salaries and salaries of other universities with similar Maclean’s rankings.
Of course, a strike is undesirable for both parties. Dr. Jacqueline Holler, President of the Faculty Association, understands the effect that a strike would have on students. “Certainly we understand that students would be alarmed by the prospect of any kind of job action. Inevitably, it’s destructive… it would be with very heavy hearts that faculty would disrupt the operations of the university.” She is also clear, however, that a strike “…is something we’re prepared to do if necessary.” Overall, both parties hope that the effects on students would be minimized wherever possible, but the primary concern is for graduating students.
If a strike must occur, the Faculty Association has determined that they will not picket the Canada Winter Games. The Faculty Association has also been offered “flying pickets”, colleagues from various universities who will bring national attention to the issue. If a strike is to occur, CUPE has also promised not to cross picket lines (CUPE-UNBC is negotiating their collective this year as well). The University has the right to lock out the faculty at any time. Rob van Adrichem, UNBC’s Vice President of External Relations, hopes that after the agreement is ratified “students notice that the University is still an excellent institution, focused on its teaching, research, and service.”
The best way to keep involved is to keep informed with UNBC’s and the Faculty Association’s websites, both of which offer frequent updates. If you would like to endorse either your university or your faculty, please write a short letter of support. To contact the UNBC’s negotiating team, email faculty-relations@unbc.ca. Contact to the faculty negotiation is routed through fac-assoc@unbc.ca.